20/8/1912 - 12/6/1940
Record updated 20-Aug-06
Bob Swanson was one of the most popular drivers of the West Coast, winning the AAA PAcific Coast Championship in 1939 and the NMA title in 1935.
He started racing big cars and roadsters before switching to racing midgets. He won the “Turkey Night Grand Prix” in 1934 and 1938 at the Gilmore Stadium in Los Angeles and the 1939 "Gold Cup" race in the same track.
He did not confine his racing activities to the West Coast, achieving several victories all over the country.
He raced in the first 300-mile George Vanderbilt Cup race at the new Roosevelt Raceway would be held on October 12, 1936, Columbus Day. Enticed by the massive prize money, Scuderia Ferrari sent three Alfa Romeo 12C-36 Grand Prix cars as well as an older 8C-35 for practice. The American contingent was made of two seater Indianapolis cars as well as various dirt-track specials. Drivers for the Italian team included Antonio Brivio, Nino Farina and the legendary Tazio Nuvolari. The top American driver that day was Billy Winn who would cause a sensation during practice and the early part of the race. Swanson manhandled his 100hp midget into 5th place before running out of fuel and made an impressive showings but it was the superiority of the Alfa Romeos and Nuvolari’s driving that made the difference as he easily won the inaugural race.
He took part to three Indianapolis 500 events, in his rookie year, after he had to withdraw his car, he drove relief for Ralph Hepburn taking the car from fourth to first place. Hepburn finished the race in second position. In 1938 he missed the Indy 500 due to the injuries he had received in a midget accident.
In 1939 he didn't qualify but Ralph Hepburn handed the wheel of his car over Bob Swanson after 104 laps to drive relief. Two laps later Swanson lost control and spun off in Turn 2. Floyd Roberts could not avoid the car and crashed into it. Roberts rode over Swanson's vehicle and went through the fence. Swanson's car was overturned, and Chet Miller flipped his front-driven Summers - Miller hard in the grass attempting to avoid the original accident. Roberts suffered fatal injuries in the accident.
In the 1940 Indy 500 he finished sixth.
Swanson died while qualifying for a midget race at Toledo, Ohio on 12 June 1940. He was driving the Harry Stevens Offy, the car was later purchased by Mel Hansen who refused to remove Bob Swanson’s name from the cowling for the remainder of the season in tribute to the fallen champion.